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The ‘On my bedside table’ series – Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laurie Lee​​​​​​​

The ‘On my bedside table’ series – Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laurie Lee​​​​​​​

The ‘On my bedside table’ series – Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laurie Lee

My social media feed is abuzz with all the wonderful projects that friends and family have been undertaking in their homes and gardens. The delightful rock gardens, the colourfully painted garden fences, and the wallpapered living rooms all exude a sense of pride from these dwellers. Whether we are living in a country retreat or a high street apartment; and whether we are fond of our own little haven or not, we have all been forced to live in them for sustained periods during these social restrictions. So, is it serendipity that I have landed up with two very topical books on my bedside table recently? The delightful ode to the Yorkshire countryside in ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett and an account of the untamed landscape of the Cotswolds in ‘Cider with Rosie’ by Laurie Lee.

Frances Hodgson Burnett was a pioneering author during the Victorian era earning income from her articles and novellas; an unheard-of profession for women during these times. The story of ‘The Secret Garden’ starts in cholera ridden India during which Miss Mary (quite contrary) is left as an orphan only to be shipped to her uncle in the Yorkshire moors who isn’t present much on the scene either. Misselthwaite Manor, the isolated moorland mansion she comes to live in, is delightfully described as being rather big with 100 rooms that are mostly kept locked. With elaborate tapestries hanging from every wall and ominous portraits of relatives, near and far, looking down on her every movement, no wonder nearly-ten-year-old Mary finds solace, friendship and a sense of purpose in the neglected, secret garden that is just beginning to come alive.

On the other hand, Laurie Lee’s home in Slad Valley in Gloucestershire couldn’t be more drastically different. Bank Cottage had crumbling walls, little nooks for rooks and crevices in the cellar for families of mice, and seemed to heave and sigh with changing seasons and the English weather (mostly calamitous rain)! Young Laurie was never lonely in a brood of 8 siblings yet he found his own sanctuary amongst the neighbouring woodlands, meandering rivulets and the rich flora and fauna. His innate curiosity of the delights of nature was honed by observing ALL the occupants of his household and those outside, in various stages of their lives or decay (sometimes to the chagrin of the contents of his stomach).

The homes in both these stories are always a physical presence in the background; providing a stage for these enactments. Yet, both stories are despite their homes and many of us will be feeling exactly so under these restrictions. We are all weaving our own novellas from our homes, to be reflected on in peace, sometime in the future.

-- Written by Sonali Deshpande --